INTEGRATED: ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT...Premium-rate telephone lines

An upsurge in complaints has prompted a review of premium-rate telephone services, Janet Izatt says

An upsurge in complaints has prompted a review of premium-rate telephone

services, Janet Izatt says



Concern over the number of complaints about premium-rate telephone

competitions has prompted the telephone services watchdog, the

Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone

Information Services, (ICSTIS) to launch a review of the industry.



Premium-rate service (PRS) competitions were the largest single source

of complaints to the watchdog last year, accounting for more than a

quarter of the 3,252 complaints received.



Half of these related to technical problems and, ironically, most

complaints were received from non-competition players.



ICSTIS says that around 73,000 PRS competitions - where a premium-rate

telephone number is used to enter a competition either by simply

recording entry details from the caller or by allowing the entrant to

answer questions - are run every year.



One of the major concerns of ICSTIS is the doubtful legality of some PRS

competitions. The Gaming Board of Great Britain has also questioned

whether some competitions are actually lotteries because they do not

require the level of skills needed for genuine competitions.



Last year, Sky ran a competition called Telemillion, offering viewers

the chance to win pounds 250,000. The service provider, Interactive

Telephone Services, was found guilty of running an illegal lottery

rather than a competition, a move that shocked the industry. The court

decided that, although participants had to answer questions requiring

skill, the 60 per cent of entrants who answered them correctly were then

entered into a draw and the eventual winner was selected by chance

alone.



ICSTIS is also investigating the proportion of revenue allocated to

prizes compared with the amount of revenue generated and whether the

rules, conditions and management of PRS competitions give consumers a

fair chance to win.



The watchdog is canvassing the views of a wide-ranging number of

interested parties, from the Independent Television Commission, to the

police, the government, and the Gaming Board.



Agencies that create the competitions and are governed by ICSTIS as

service providers, have welcomed the review because it could end what

has been an expensive and frustrating legal process.



‘No self-respecting company is going to provide services outside the

law. All service providers have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on

legal fees in an attempt to stay within the law. But there are so many

woolly areas that we welcome this review if it can clarify those areas,’

says Bill Heath, the chairman of the Direct Marketing Association’s

automated call-handling group, which represents the majority of service

providers.



The cut-off date for the consultation process is 12 August. Any changes

to the code will be made in the autumn.



Anthony Smith, the associate director at ICSTIS, says: ‘At the end of

the consultation period we will consider all the responses and look at

where changes to the code should be made. If so, that will happen at the

end of the this year.’



FACTS AND FIGURES



The service Premium-rate services are those where the revenue from a

telephone service is shared by a network operator and service providers

at a previously agreed rate.



Prefixes PRSs operate on designated prefixes at specified tariffs -

0891 is well known, and currently charges between 39p and 49p per

minute.



Turnover The total PRS industry turnover in 1995 was approximately

pounds 260 million.



Calls Up to 20,000 services are in operation and it is estimated that

almost five million PRS calls are made each week.



Categories Competitions generally fall into five categories: scratchcard

leaflets distributed in the press ; daily newspaper competitions ;

catalogue-style competitions; television alternative-choice answer

competitions; and television skill competitions.



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